Besides the altar cloths, the linens used for the Holy Sacrifice are the corporal, burse, purificator and pall. These are called “holy cloths,” all made of white linen. The corporal is a square of fine linen with a small cross embroidered into the center. It is folded in three from both sides and kept in a burse, a pocket-like envelope which, along with the pall are now optional. The corporal, which comes from the Latin word for “body” corporalis, is the most important of the holy cloths for on it the priest places the chalice and the Host after consecration. Along with the purificator, the corporal symbolizes the liinen in which Jesus was laid away in the sepulchre.
The purificator is an oblong piece of linen, folded three times and draped over the chalice and under the paten. The priest uses the purificator to purify the chalice and paten as well as wiping his mouth after the Ablution.
The pall is a small square piece of linen starched stiff and used to cover the chalice. Before Vatican II all of these holy cloths were used along with a veil to cover the chalice with the burse on top. The color of both matched the liturgical season.
The vestments commonly worn by the priest to say Mass are the alb, stole, and chasuble. Before Vatican II, the vital garments for saying Mass were the amice, cincture, maniple, and biretta. The latter is the black three-ridged square cap worn by the priest when he enters the sanctuary. Since the sixties this has pretty much vanished, going the way of “Going My Way”.
The chief vestments worn by the priest have been handed down to us from the time of the Apostles. God Himself gave directions about the vestments of the priests in the Old Testament as detailed in Exodus 28:4-5, “These are the vestments they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a broadcaded tunic, a miter and a sash. In making these sacred vestments which your brother Aaron and his sons are to wear in serving as My priest, they shall use gold, violet, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen.”
The ephod is similar to the amice taken from the Latin word amictus meaning "cloak." It is a piece of white linen cloth which covers the priest´s shoulders and is still in vogue today if the alb does not cover the ordinary neckwear. Before vesting the priest recites "Place, O Lord, on my head the helmet of salvation, that I may overcome the assaults of the devil." The prayers said as the celebrant puts on each piece of clothing reveal the meaning attached to them by Holy Mother Church.
The Alb, similar to the brocaded tunic of the Old Testament, is the white linen tunic which covers the priest's entire body. The word Alb means "white garment" derived from the Latin alba. In vesting, the priest says "Purify me, O Lord, from all stain of sin and cleanse my heart, that washed in the Blood of the Lamb, I may enjoy eternal delights."
The cincture is the cord fastened around the alb. It derives from the sash of Aaron. The prayer while fastening the cincture is "Gird me, O Lord, with the cincture of purity, and quench in my heart the fire of concupiscence, that the virtue of continence and chastity may remain in me."
All of the above linens are considered inner vestments in contrast with the outer vestments which consist of the stole, chasuble, dalmatic, and tunicle. Again, since Vatican II, the maniple, a short narrow strip of cloth which matched the stole and chasuble in material, has since been eliminated. It hung over the priests left arm.
The stole is the long silk band that fits around the neck and is crossed on the breast of the priest; on a deacon it is worn over his left shoulder and crossed on his right waist. The stole is the symbol of authority in the Church and is the most blessed of all the vestments because it is the mandatory vestment of all sacraments. Upon putting on the stole the priest prays "Restore to me, O Lord, the state of my immortality which was lost to me by my first parents, and although unworthy to approach Thy sacred mysteries, grant me nevertheless eternal joy." The final garment the priest dons is the chasuble which hangs from the shoulders in front and behind down to the knees and beyond. It is the color of the liturgical season or Mass for that day and is adorned reverently with a religious symbol of appropriate design. The chasuble is similar to the robe of Old Testament times. Before Vatican II the chasuble was more like a large scapular that only came halfway between the waist and knees front and back- Since then, the chasubles have developed into longer flowing robes which cover the arms. These are called ¨Gothic chasubles¨. In vesting with the chasuble, the celebrant prays "O Lord, Who has said ´My yoke is sweet and my burden light,´grant that I may carry it so as to obtain Thy grace."
All of these preparatory prayers as well as prayers of thanksgiving after Mass are mandatory for all priests according to Canon 909. They are meant to put the celebrant in the right frame of mind for the august responsibility of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and to recall the meaning of his role as priest for the people of God.
The dalmatic and tunicle are modified chasubles worn by the deacon and subdeacon respectively at a high Mass. They are of the same material and color as the celebrant´s chasuble. Altar servers traditionally wear a black cassock to the ankles with a white surplice, which is a short alb also used by the priest outside the Mass. Today the norm for many acolytes is to wear an ankle-length white, tan or gray alb only.
Colors play an important role in the Mass for they identify the Liturgical season and the Mass being said each day. There are five main colors signifying the liturgy with black being eased out in the Novus Ordo in favor of white for funeral masses. Another color, gold, may be substituted for white, and green on solemn feasts. Rose-colored vestments are allowed on Gaudete and Laetare Sundays. White vestments, symbolizing purity and joy, are worn on festivals of Our Lord, except for those of His Passion. White is also used for feasts of the Blessed Mother, for virgins and Confessors. Red vestments, representing the color of fire and blood, are reserved for the feast of Pentecost, feasts of the Apostles and martyrs, and of course the Passion of Jesus. Green vestments are in use for the greater part of the year during the Ordinary times of the liturgical year. Green connotes hope and growth. Purple or Violet vestments, representing royal power and dignity as well as penitence, are worn during Lent and Advent as well as Vigils before great feasts and Ember days. The latter have been greatly downplayed since Vatican II.
Benediction, thank God, is making a comeback in many parishes as we enter the third millennium. During Benediction and processions of the Blessed Sacrament, the priest wears the cope, a mantle which clasps in the front under the neck. The word "cope" comes from the Latin word for cape capa. When holding the Monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament, the priest dons the humeral veil which is a long silk cloth. The word "humeral" evolves from the Latin word humerus meaning "shouldler." Both cope and humeral veil are white or gold.
As you can see great care, detail and purpose is given to the sanctuary furnishing, sacred vessels and vestments because it seems only right to give what is most precious, beautiful and priceless for the glory of God. Non-Catholics and some Catholics critize the Church for lavishing so much money into these things, but consider that nothing is too good for God. The beauty of His house also impresses the beholder and helps devotion. Yet, some worldly-minded people are prone to say "to what purpose is this waste?" It brings to mind this is the very same thing Judas Iscariot question Jesus on when Mary Magdalene anointed Our Lord´s feet with expensive perfume.
Statues, icons, pictures, stained glass, stations of the cross and vigil lights are common in most churches, however in the new modern churches many of these sacramentals have been obliterated in favor of "modern art" and distractions that do anything but prompt one to a proper disposition of prayer. Though this is the modernists´ greatest argument that "the tabernacle directly behind the altar and statues distract from the Mass," yet they´ve thrown out the baby with the bath water, so to speak, by erecting obtuse structures that do nothing to create an atmosphere of prayer and reverence. In fact liturgists, parish councils and architects have replaced God with man by removing the tabernacle and in its place putting the sedelia or chair where the celebrant sits with his servers beside him.
In the next installment we resume on our voyage of the Barque of Peter in the 7th century as the Church embarks on a Holy Campaign to solidify her supremacy in bitter clashes with enemies of the Church.